The South African Department of Education (DoE) introduced a new threshold qualification, Advanced Certificate in Education (School Leadership), which was the first concrete step towards implementing a compulsory professional qualification for principalship. The qualification is called ACE ‘School Leadership’ but the outcomes in the learning content designed by the DoE tend to focus on ‘management’. Since this qualification was only implemented from 2008, the synchrony between the theory and practice has not yet been investigated. The focus of this paper was to determine whether the ACE promoted leadership practices (ideographic dimensions) rather than just management skills (nomothetic dimensions).
This study employed qualitative case study research methods and procedures to investigate the influence of the ACE School Leadership programme on leadership practices. Six principals who had completed the ACE School Leadership programme and their 24 subordinates from Mpumalanga, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, were purposively selected. The findings display ample evidence of the nomothetic dimensions of the social systems theory outweighing the ideographic dimensions in the principal preparation programme. Principals showed confidence in management and this gave rise to unconscious leadership practices. Subordinates in their schools scored them highly regarding compliance and stated that they were more participative in their approach.
The contribution that this research makes is that future preparation programmes be balanced regarding the social systems theory and contain contextual case studies; networking opportunities and strategic and innovative thinking which would result in principals not just being compliant, but competent and capable of leading school improvement. The study suggests a model for future effective leadership preparation programmes. The model outlines the threshold principal roles and the principal primary roles. The study acknowledges the need for more research on how principal leadership preparation programmes influence leadership practices. The ACE school leadership programme demonstrated in this study its ability to develop principals’ management practices and a need to develop principals’ leadership skills more. Findings in this study demonstrate improvement in learner performance for the principals who attended the ACE programme. The refinement of the ACE programme’s curriculum could lead to school leadership improvement